ANGRY AS HELL, ENGLAND



You know I like the show Constantine, right? You know I have to rant about the unfairness that is NBC cancelling the show and releasing all of its cast and crew from their contracts, right? Right. Just so we’re under no illusions as to what this post will be about.

Let’s start at the beginning. Imagine you have the rights to make a show based on a comic book. Now imagine that this comic cook has a long-standing, loyal fanbase. Imagine those fans have access to a TV and a cable\broadband connection, and in all likelihood subscribe to some kind of entertainment package to watch whatever they want on said TV. How much of a stretch would it be to imagine that these fans might want to give your new show a go, and if they approved, would talk about it non-stop on social media and to their real life friends?

So you make the show. You do a bit of market research and find that there aren’t that many shows on telly these days that would fall into the same category. One of the copyright owners, WB, turns out to have a show somewhat similar in appearance but completely different in actuality, on one of its subsidiary channels, the CW. You have a think and decide that, because of the time and effort everyone’s put into bringing the show to life - not least of the all the excellent cast including, some would say, the real life embodiment of the main character himself - you’ll bury it in the ‘graveyard’ spot (so named because shows get put in that time slot to die).

The first episode gets mixed reviews; you feel disappointed. So disappointed, in fact, that you order the season to be cut from 23 episodes to just 13. After all, you have to mitigate your losses, right? So the viewers and fans are upset. Who cares? What matters is that you’ve just ensured you lose less money that you’ve projected. Now you sit back and watch the ratings, week by week. But you don’t advertise the show, you don’t go out of your way to boost these ratings in any way. It’s almost like you don’t want to do the job you’re paid to do, and certainly looks exactly like you want the show to fail.

But the fans. Ah, those irksome fans. They get together on Twitter, on tumblr, on Facebook. They conspire to get the name of the show, and the fact that everyone needs to ‘save’ the show, trending. And it doesn’t stop there - cast and crew join in, because hey, why not - it’s only their jobs, their livelihoods, after all. Ratings increase episode by episode. Not dramatically, but enough to convince everyone that it’s worth more than it’s getting. So you change the time slot, bring it forward an hour, without advertising it. That’ll confuse the viewers, right? I mean, once they tune in and find out they’ve missed it, they’ll just forget all about it, surely.

You’ve forgotten streaming, my friend, and the revenue you get from it. Now you have to factor that into how successful it’s becoming, not to mention all those secondary ratings from people who hear about it through someone doing a tweet-along and then get snared as viewers too. Damn those social media platforms.

Then you find that someone in Marketing has done for that show what they do for all your other shows; they’ve gone and made some merchandise. Granted, it’s only two shirts, and granted, they’re only for men, but look at how many they’ve gone and sold! Idiots. Now you have to stop any more merchandise being produced lest you generate income from that, too. Who wants the merchandise to become popular so that you end up not only making money from it, but advertising the show as well? It’ll have to be stopped otherwise you’ll never get this show cancelled.

Did I say cancelled? I meant buried.

Now then, knowing that the (shortened) season is coming to a close, you keep a steady eye on the ratings. Once they’ve out-performed several other shows across rival networks, then you can announce that they just weren’t high enough, and give everyone a good reason to cancel the show. But to forestall any fan fury, you just say that the show has been put on the back-burner, that you can bring it back at any time - say, if the new Autumn shows don’t attract high enough ratings before the Christmas break. That will keep the fans happy, right?

Sigh. Obviously not. The fans keep writing in - taking the time to use actual pens and real paper - and they’re emailing, and calling network executives, and they’re sending in weird things like the nine of diamonds playing cards and red ties. It’s all very weird. Basically they don’t seem happy about the show being caught in limbo. But who cares - you can cancel it next week anyway.

And you do. It gets canned. Cast and crew are freed from their contracts. They go their separate ways, like good little soldiers. The network is happy - they’ve got rid of it at last. Now they can concentrate on the shows that will make them money. Because making money out of your shows is how you survive as a network.

But make sure there’s no merchandise to sell, lads. Can’t have us making money out of a show we’ve already cancelled. Wait - who sold it to Amazon Prime and iTunes? Idiots - now people can spend money on it to buy the series. Now even more money will come in. Oh but wait a minute - make sure you don’t, whatever you do, produce or sell a DVD or - gasp! - a blu ray with extras on it. Got that stopped? Phew! Good work, troops. We very nearly ended up receiving more revenue from this show through very little expenditure.

Done imagining all that? Wow - you have a very vivid imagination, and one to be proud of, not to mention good concentration.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine, because that’s exactly what happened (well, mostly). And here’s why I’m angry:

At any time, NBC, you could have realised that you’d made a commitment and thought about actually backing that up with advertising, with an effort to promote the show and get some good beginner’s ratings. At any time you could have decided that you no longer wanted the show and cut yourself free - by selling it to another network or one of your subsidiaries. The CW wouldn’t have been a perfect fit but it would have been a start. AMC would have been perfect, seeing as they’re currently still enjoying a ratings hit with The Walking Dead. HBO would have turned the show into more of its comic book origins and less about toning it down for the audience - great. Netflix would have grabbed that ball and run with it so fast you’d regret letting it go. But hey, you failed to back your own show and you failed to sell it as a going concern. But see, it wasn’t just your loss - it was the fans’, too.

I shall add the back story of this show to the shelf with the others - Farscape, Firefly, 17th Precinct, the Dresden Files. Perhaps it’s just me - perhaps I have a unerring ability to pick out shows destined to lose, and then invest in them emotionally until they are actually pronounced dead and buried. Perhaps I should watch all the other shit that keep the networks afloat. Then again, maybe I should just ignore NBC and their banal, bland offerings of entertainment and stick to the things I like. Yeah, think I’ll do that.

The funny thing is, that show I mentioned on the CW? Yeah. Supernatural was in danger of being cancelled so many times over the years, and yet it’s now prepping for its eleventh season. The amount of merchandise and fan support is astronomical. Guess where all that money is going? Yes, NBC - not you.

That’s it; I’m done. I’m not even close to over NBC deliberately trying to make no money out of its own show. I’m not nearly over the way they’ve left the end of the season hanging and now we’ll never find out what happens next. I’m not even remotely thinking about forgiving them for letting this show go.

This is one you can’t just let go. It’s not the time.


Constantine: A Feast of Friends


Yes, here we are again. Bumps in the road come and go, but favourite (and obsessive) shows are forever. I’ve done the first three episodes of Constantine, but I’ve fallen behind in so many things. John Constantine will not be one of them. Onwards and upwards, my friends - it’s time for three themes:

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 4!




Hellblazer

We start with Gary Lester, and the purr wee lamb trying to get through US Customs (that’s doesn’t look like Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, but whatever) with a reeeeaaaally dodgy bottle from Khartoum. It takes about a minute for it all to go Pete Tong and Hellblazer fans will already recognise the storyline from, funnily enough, Hellblazer #001. And John ‘teaching’ Zed how to let go and use her psychic abilities to travel a network - like John floats the synchronicity highway? We get a mention of Newcastle early on, and the showrunners don’t gloss over the fact that Gary is still a skeevy drug addict. (Excellent casting, by the way - JonJo O’Neill is the perfect hapless shifter who just wants to do good - and if that’s by way of another fix, then all the better.) John comes over as a bit of a hardass on poor Gary - he’s judgemental of his addict ways, he refuses his help at every turn, he tells him to his face that he’s the last person he’d ever want to help him with anything. If this were the comic, it’d be because he either (1) knew he couldn’t trust Gary, or (2) wanted him as far aways as possible in a bid to keep him out of danger. From Matt Ryan’s face and body language, I’m going to go with option 1 here. It works.

Gary gives us the story of Newcastle, and inadvertently shows how everyone - the ‘crew’ they ran with back then - thought John was the dog’s bollocks and no-one could resist ‘a bit of black magic with the John Constantine’.

I like how the whole story has come out of bad luck - Gary just happens to be on the chore for a fix, so that he comes across the boy containing the demon in the first place. It’s typical Hellblazer for some poor soul to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tropes

We get a full-on exorcism, a bug-fuelled rescue of a young lad’s soul - not by John, but by needy Gary. He’s so made up with the fact that he succeeded it’s so sad to see that the complete numptie at the airport smashed the bloody thing and let the demon out. This is what a show about demonology and dark arts should have, right? Ticks a box, and preps the audience for later episodes containing the premise.

John’s speech about Gary and himself as younger men - people who use, people who run away, people who lose their way after shit hits the fan. This sets Gary up as both the story’s everyman who couldn’t take the big time (which is fair enough, considering what that actually was back in Newcastle) and also the waster character who just wants to be redeemed by coming through for once in his life.

Zed: she wants to see the good in people, she wants Gary to turn over a new leaf and impress John, I think so Zed can show she’s right and John is wrong about people being unable to change. It’s an interesting thought from both sides - even though she appears to be hiding out with John and Chas from her ‘real life’, she still thinks the best of people until proven wrong. John is used to the shittier side of people’s natures though - he’s fully prepared for everyone to be bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling (something I have to agree with).

And Nommo is the mysterious shaman dude with all the answers. (I like this character, and the actor, Charles Parnell. It’d be nice if he were to come back at some point.)
We have Manny and his sudden appearances, to first of all check that John is still on the path to tracking down the series arc the Rising Darkness, while simultaneously giving us some insight into Zed’s abilities and where they may or may not stem from. Sowing the seeds for much later on, as it turns out.

Using

Gary: being the addict is obvious. But he’s also using people to find some way to atone for running away and hiding at Newcastle. John, the manipulator of people, using small victories to make himself feel some tiny amount of satisfaction that he’s managed to erase a little of the red in his ledger. Zed, the psychic, using her abilities to help, but also perhaps using Gary’s presence to get some answers about John’s past. Mnemoth the hunger demon is the only straightforward one here, who isn’t using someone or something else for ulterior motives. You could argue that it’s the only pure character here. Even Nommo uses psychotropics to get his answers, and in doing that perhaps cements John’s trust in him and what he can do. I’m sure Nommo would have no qualms about leaning on John for a favour in the future based on this episode.

But who is Manny using and how? During his second appearance he’s apparently not convinced that John is up to the task of what he’s planning for the demon. Funny how he’s not at all against John’s actual plan (that will be revealed in the last act). Odd that an angel would have no problem with what he knew John to be planning. It appears to be the first indication that Manny either doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe that John would actually go through with it. Of course, it’s good that Manny didn’t say anything to that effect or The Big Reveal would have been ruined.

When we do get to the last act and we see what John’s got up his sleeve, Gary is not angry. In fact he seems appreciative; is he awed by John’s offer of a point to using Gary’s life (and death) for good, or is he just glad of a way out, a way to be off the hook for Newcastle, in a way that makes him a hero?

The third time Manny appears he comes to sit with John over the agonising death that Gary is going through piece by piece. Does he want to help John, or does he want to be there at the end for poor Gary, to maybe take his soul when it’s freed? Perhaps he’s just using this opportunity to see what John is capable of, for future adventures? It certainly is ambiguous, and anyone who grew up on Farscape will see the potential for mass mood whiplash around the corner.

Obligatory quotes

Zed: People can change, you know.
John: Bollocks. We are who we are. Eventually.

John: You know what I always say, Gaz. Everyone has the capacity to change.
Gary: I’ve never heard you say that before.
John: Exactly.

Zed: Gary loved you and you betrayed him!
John: You think I wanted this? I told you: people around me die. If you can’t handle it, then go.

It was a full episode, and it was a well-planned one. This was not a procedural drama in the sense that it did not seek to solve the problem of the demon Mnemoth, but rather open up the can of worms that was Gary’s life and John’s part in it all. Gary was a very welcome addition to the mill house, and JonJo O’Neill was very well used. We got a range of pissed-off expression from John, and the oh fuck no face that is starting to become a warning that he’s about to lose patience with the turd-burp part of his universe. He also unleashes a few new epithets (and I am enjoying the Englishness of his swearing. It’s so nice to hear it being used in US telly) without being a stereotype. I liked Zed’s two cents, questioning John where other people may not have felt educated enough on the context, or perhaps intimidated by all the shit he pulls with magic (like randomly having the original Taba’at Shlomo at his disposal to carve the seal of Solomon into a handy glass bottle). When she feels she has to step in she’s not afraid to do so, and I like that about her. She also has to deal with Gary’s come-downs first-hand, and she copes pretty well for someone who’s never ‘dabbled’ with drugs. She continues to challenge and question, and that’s forcing John to evaluate things more clearly. I like it.

So, marks out of ten? I’d give this one an eight - for not shying away from doing what it had to in the end. I wish it could have gone a little further, but this is NBC not HBO (or AMC). Pity. Still, we have plenty more episodes to go. I may even do another one tonight.

Peach and lube, everyone! Peach and lube.

General shite


So this is going to mostly be about me trying to put things down on virtual paper sheerly to straighten them out in my head. You know when you can’t understand what’s happening, but when you have to explain it to someone else it becomes clear to you? It’s one of those times.

Where do I start? Hong Kong. I do think about what life would be like every morning if I’d never left; if I hadn’t been told my work visa would never be stamped again and given seventy-two hours to leave; if I’d continued with the same job(s); if I were still living in the bright centre of the universe. It hurts, most days. Because I have friends who have left, and they’ve experienced the same thing I did when I came back to England; there is no life outside of cities, here. And I live close to the New Forest. It’s kind of like Bumblefuck Nowhere, UK style. It took me nearly a year to get a car (and the stimulus for that was me having to get 200 miles up the country for a writers’ conference, and public transport being fucking shocking) and longer than that to move out of my little sister’s spare room into an actual flat. There’s an entertainment complex just 10 minutes’ walk from where I now live. Which is nice. Restaurants, bars, even a 10-screen cinema. There’s a gym and a pool and a 6 day supermarket. It’s all good. But I don’t use it. The cinema is a go-zone on Tuesdays because they do cheaper tickets, studios allowing. At other times it is just amazingly expensive. My job is pretty cushty, but it’s not the best paid in the world. I’m lucky to even have one, and one that pays for my rent, my car, and a little extra on the side (it keeps me in vodka, for example). But there’s no atmosphere. Unless you want gentle Sunday afternoon drives in brilliant sunshine to places you can picnic and then go home again, there’s not an awful lot to brighten your week. It’s boring. It’s monotonous. And I’ve never been good with monotonous. Three of my friends have gone back to Hong Kong. I think, more and more, that I would if I could.

I have a friend, living still in Hong Kong, who has a bit of Jerry MacGuire syndrome; she cannot be alone. Not in a needy, scared way, but in exactly the same way as I find this country boring: she needs constant stimulation, fun with people you know, a break from the routine - this is why she needs company, and as more time passes, I find I need it too. But if I did get that, if I did manage to get a quick trip down the pub for an alcohol-free beer three nights a week, I’d then be upset that I don’t get time for my own obsessions.

I have one, and that’s writing.

Ah yes, here we go. How much writing have I done since I returned to England? Well, not an awful lot. And the stuff I have produced has all been fanfic - not one word of original stuff. And I know why. Everything I write now is Changed Me; suddenly there are boundaries, suddenly there’s a need for more realism and less imagination, suddenly my writing is turning into what I hate most about me - boring, life-by-numbers. The narrative is dampened, simplified, reduced to the mundane. The plots are starting to all sound familiar, the twists predictable to the point where they’re not twists, and the dialogue is all same-same. I can see it, right there on the MacBook screen in front of me, and it hurts.

I used to look back at my earlier writing and cringe, because it was weak, it was flawed, and some of it was downright awful. But that was stuff I’d written seven, eight years ago. When I look back at stuff I’ve written just three years ago, I cringe. But now it’s because that was a time when my brain was obviously enjoying its freedom from the boring and mundane, and producing fresh, exciting stories with funny, genuinely good narrative. Every time I look at a Scrivener screen now, the blank white is awash with knowing that whatever I’m about to write will never be as good as the novel I completed (that I still can’t get published), the seven sci-fi novels I wrote pretty much for my own amusement, or the fanfic about the knife. The empty page is already too crowded before I start. It’s full of failure and trying too hard, of all the signs of a writer having lost ‘it’ - the ‘it’ that made them good. The magic has gone. And I don’t think it’s ever coming back. I’ve never had a more pressing need to be able to block out the world and get into my own writing headspace - and I’ve never been less able to do it. It’s just not there any more. Daydreams don’t bring me plot ideas. Waking up with a small hangover no longer makes me realise what’s missing from the scene I’ve recently written. (Partly because I haven’t written a scene, and partly because I don’t think the hangover section of my brain cares any more.)

My friends did return to Hong Kong, and I’m happy for them. It’s where they should be. I just don’t know where I should be, but something tells me it’s not here. I grew up in a small towny kind of place. I’d never lived in a UK city. I moved to Hong Kong and the city life grew on me. When I came back to the UK, I lost all of that cityness, and 90% of my friends, in one fell swoop. I do have family here, which obviously made it easier, and my very, very close friend from way back. But I miss the randomness, the absurd fun, the ‘whacky’ adventures I’ve had overseas. They just don’t have the capacity to happen over here.

I’m still confused with what I’m supposed to be doing in life. I mean, people get hobbies but is it just to fill up your days? It is supposed to be giving yourself something to do during that time you’re not at work or sleeping? In that case, does it matter what it is? People say ‘get a hobby, go out and see the sun or something’. But time will move along anyway, the day will still end and I’ll still get to bed so I can go to work the next day - so what does it matter how I fill that evening time? It all goes the same way, right?

Part of me is aware that I’m on the brink of an episode where I cannot mentally or physically get out of bed. Part of me is aware that I should be getting up and going to my archery club, or just standing outside in the sun (because feeling sunshine on my skin makes me feel better for no reason whatsoever). But the rest of me is saying ‘why conform? Why do what you’re supposed to? Why both going to archery or going outside when you’ll just have to come back - what does it change? What difference does it make to anyone, anywhere?’ I do want to go to archery, but I also think it’s too planned and I can’t make myself go through with it. And yet I miss doing archery. It’s there, ready and waiting for me, but I can’t make myself plan the day to work by taking my archery stuff, so I can go and do it straight from work, because all day I’ve got this plan that suddenly I’m a slave to, and I hate that feeling.

Pretty fucked up, right? Right. Thought so.

And behind it all, there’s that nagging feeling that you haven’t written anything, that you won’t write anything, and it’s all over. Oh, you’ll get some scenes on paper, but you’ll proofread each part and find it’s just not grabbing you, it’s boring, it’s normal - and you’ll never finished it. Once upon a time, I had one single solitary story that was started and then archived as never finished. How many do I have now? Five, at last count. You get to guess why.

That’s about it, I think. Talking it through hasn’t actually made it any clearer - other than convincing myself of the inevitable. Maybe that’s why I’ve been downgraded from ‘gets letters from agents rejecting her book’ to ‘agents can’t even be bothered to reject you’. I was going to continue sending out my book to agents on my list, but really, when it’s so bad they can’t be arsed to respond to you at all, then why bother? Each time is a three month wait for a response that will never come, so you rewrite parts of the book and you rejig ideas and you agonise over a perfect cover letter and you send it all out again - to wait three months and hear nothing, all over again. Why do I waste my time? Someone please tell me, because I’m losing the will to do much at all these days, much less send out letters that will never be answered.

And then there’s the whole ‘dating’ thing - people will tell you you’re just stuck in a rut and you need to date someone. Why? To what end? I have friends to take up all my time - what else do I need? If the whole point of a date is sheerly to interview someone to see if they are a good fit with you, and you can be friends, then why don’t I just keep my friends and not bother? And how can someone be a good fit with me, if I’m not a good fit with me? The dating rant I could go on would be massive - so I’m not doing it right now. It will get its own blog entry, in time.

But not today. Today I’m done.

Constantine: The Devil’s Vinyl



I told you I was doing the entire series, didn’t I? I know it’s not Monday yet but I’m just not prepared to wait that long. So here we go - another Constantine review, organised under three headings. Hold my tea, it’s time for:

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 3!



Deserving

Where do we start with this one? Why not Jasmine, the woman who made the contract in the first place, with the ambulance chaser in the hospital. Did she deserve to have her contract end and her soul sent to Hell? Yes. Oh don’t look at me like that - she knew what she was doing and she signed it anyway. I’m not judging her for it, I’m just saying, she understood completely what she was getting into. The fact that it was for the whole ‘I’ll gladly sell my soul if it gets rid of my husband’s cancer’ thing is unfair, but so’s life. The fact that she wasn’t the one trying to get out of the contract was interesting - and a nice twist to bring in a favourite ‘villain’ of the comics - but that’s for later.

She segues us into Bernie - and mate, when someone tells you not to listen to a record, YOU DON’T LISTEN TO A RECORD, so yeah, he deserved what he got. Yes, if he hadn’t done it we wouldn’t have had a climax to the episode teaser and John wouldn’t have had anyone to question later. But still, Bernie - judging you.

How about Zed? Does she deserve to be trusted yet? She helped John gain access to the morgue (like he wouldn’t have picked someone’s pocket himself five minutes after she’d done it), she found Moonrise Records in about three seconds on Google where John was seriously considering going to a library. She smacked a dude over the head before he could knife John. She knows and uses American SIgn Language to get the actual story of what happened at the crime scene. Everything she does seem to come from a position of wanting to help - but why? Is she really that compassionate or is she trying to atone for something? John doesn’t seem to be totally on board with her yet; she invites herself along on the case and his reply is a dour “Knock yourself out, MacDuff”. Does this mean he’s expecting Zed to find out what he’s really about and harm him?

Matt Ryan deserves an Emmy. I’m just going to say it now and get it out of the way. There, I feel better already.

History

We had a few points of insight here - we meet Bernie the record producer. Why is this important? John shares something about himself with Zed: “Back in Jurassic time I fronted a punk band called Mucus Membrane. Yeah, that’s right - I wasn’t always an upstanding warlock. Bernie here produced our first and only record. He tried his best, but… to tell you the truth we were just a bunch of wankers trying to get laid.” We get one of John’s mates, dead, and him a little unsettled by it - but this is ‘first friend dead’. How many more will we see over the series? Well I’ve seen it, so I already know, but basically the death toll is more Hellblazer and less Star Trek.

The singer set down in acetate for future generations to be haunted by was called Willie Cole. How close this was to the legend of Robert Johnson, the real-life blue singer who may or may not have ‘sold his soul’ to the devil, we will never know. Those of you who’ve watched the Supernatural episode Crossroad Blues will be familiar with the rumoured tale of Robert Johnson; he was a pretty good harmonica player but a terrible blue guitar player. He was alleged to have gone to a crossroads and sought the help of the devil, who promised him ten years of expert guitarmanship before he would return and claim his soul as payment. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Johnson actually died of syphilis, or of being caught by a jealous husband. But then the Faustian myth is much more exciting, innit? This episode draws on this and makes you think you know what’s behind it all - until it shows you that it’s not.

Papa Midnite, then. It seems him and John have something of a professional history, even if they don’t appear to have met face to face before. John describes him as a voodoo priest, and seems to have a good idea what the man is capable of. Papa Midnite knows John by reputation, it appears. And the two of them clearly don’t like each other, much less trust one another. Something of a departure from the comics, but then, this is set early on in John’s sordid career, so perhaps we’re looking at how they came to be wary of each other. Nice.

Quotes

Yes, I’m going to shoe-horn a few in here. Quick-fire comebacks that characters slip under the radar they may be, but one of the reasons I like this show is the way they’re not waving their arms and being as cool-as-shit as possible about everything. We don’t get slow-mo moments, we don’t get Hollywood glossy action scenes, but we do get Johnesque lip and backchat:

Chas: “Let’s say hi to his Satanic Majesty.” [They get inside and John is naked, covered only in blood, learning a new spell.]

You’re going to have to respect my boundaries. I don’t do zip-ties without a safe-word.

[As John is tied down and left to die - and then it starts to rain:] “Yeah, great. Why not.

When Manny the angel appears to speak to John, but of course, not get ‘involved’ and actually help him:] “Cut me loose and I’ll show you - you celestial wank.” “ Next time I see him I’m going to punch him.

[Zed orders them to go do the next act; Chas says they should follow her. John isn’t so sure:] “Alright but we don’t have to just jump when she says.” Beat. “Ok that’s long enough; let’s go.”

So what’s the verdict on the episode? Solid, made sense, tied up loose ends, gave us something to think about before the next show. Zed is starting to eclipse Chas in her usefulness to John, and if they’re not careful, I am going to like her just as much as John himself. She’s not pushy, she’s not in your face ‘feisty’, she just quietly gets shit done. Every show should have a Zed. This episode gets a steady eight of ten, for setting us up with new characters, for doing established characters right, and for giving us a good twisty story whilst showcasing some of Matt Ryan’s best reaction faces.

And there we have it, folks. Thanks for reading, and if you’ve taken part in any of the Save Constantine activities at all recently or repeatedly, then I thank you from the heart of my bottom. We need a season 2, and I’m not stopping with the voting and petitioning and e-mailing until we get one, on any network.

Peach and lube, everyone. Peach and frelling lube.

Constantine: The Darkness Beneath



Yes, it’s Monday night again (amazing how fast it comes around) - so you know what’s coming next. Yes, it’s another Constantine rewatch and review! Tonight it’s episode 2: The Darkness Beneath. So hey-ho, let’s go with a three-word, three-theme review.

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 2!




Misdirection

Ah, where do we start? How about the opening, with pretty much the Big Bad taking control right at the outset to kill a bloke who obviously bullies his wife. Her fear of him is palpable, and we’re made to feel sorry for her. Later on we find out exactly how much she didn’t miss him when he was gone, and the change in her behaviour, and appearance, are subtle but excellent background touches.

The episode title itself may or may not be a misdirection; there is certainly something nasty under the town, but it’s something dark that comes up to kill. So is this the ‘rising darkness’ that Manny was talking about last week in the pilot episode? Time will tell.

More misdirection comes along when, at the house after what I assume is a town gathering out of shared misery, the missus makes a move on John just when he’s trying to pick up clues from the scene of the crime. He tries to let her down gently and escape but it all kicks off - she’s a vindictive one, that woman. And I’m already worried; John’s not good at fights. He gets in a few good shots but he’s floored pretty easily by the local mine owners. He gets right back in the bloke’s face though, like a Jack Russell that knows his unpredictability makes bigger dogs nervous. And right there was something that should have made me realise - the missus said it, right to John’s face, and he missed it as well; the key to the whole thing. But hey, no-one’s perfect, and it’s hard to be on the ball when you’re pretending to be one thing and you’re really not interested in the other.

Anyway, I love how John announces to the pub - in the middle of a wake - that it could be actual dragons killing people. No shame, not when it comes to getting people to tell him what is actually going on in the tiny Welsh mining town (and that was a nice touch, it being ‘Welsh’). He gets a whiff of an idea and off he trots to check out the mine and see if this ‘knocking’ that people are hearing is what he thinks it is. Here we get Hellblazer!John - he knocks on the mine wall, and it knocks back really bloody loudly. He shits himself and runs - who wouldn’t? Well most protagonists in modern shows. But not John. He knows which way the wind blows, and he makes sure he’s ahead of it. It seems he’s found the monster - or has he?

More misdirection: Ellis McGhee the ex-priest has a son who died - it’s him, right? It’s got to be! John is having as much trouble as Gregory House, M.D., guessing at clues in the air and putting the wrong theory together to explain them all. John guides Zed into and out of a vision, which leads them to the fallen father, and it looks like they have his number. Until it turns out, between Zed and Ellis, that John has the case upside down.

Zed

Chas is out of the picture due to an arrest warrant still out on him - a nice bit of back story slipped in there. Seemingly the next shot, Bear McCreary gives us some excellent music to accompany the woman hinted at, at the end of the pilot. She’s sitting on the floor frantically drawing to the excellent score going on around her. One corner of her drawings clearly says the artist is ‘Zed’. (At which point a million Hellblazer fans punched the air - it’s Zed! From the comics! Or is it?) She’s certainly drawing very industriously, like she has to get it all out. Spot all the Hellblazer covers - and random panes - that she has ‘drawn’ and ‘painted’ and left lying around her apartment. Nice. How many did you name?

She literally bumps into the mystery man from her visions, poor Con Job, and ably picks his pocket. She gets his driver’s licence (a suitably old UK one, which was a nice touch) and apparently info on where he’s staying in town. When John gets back to his Honeymoon Suite, he finds his pock-pocket has beaten him there, emptied his wallet of his ninety quid, and been through his rubbish bins to find his boarding passes from Atlanta to Pennsylvania. As an aside - it’s never made clear just how she managed to find where he was staying. Starting with all the buildings around where they smacked into each other, and eliminating each boarding house or hotel one by one, would have taken days. Perhaps she saw a vision - something the show hasn’t revealed she’s a victim of just yet.

When she does grab him by the arm and prove she’s a clairsentient, he makes out he’s helping her use her gift when in fact he’s using her to get more info on what happened to the dead bloke in his current case. He then does the dirty and legs it out of the window rather than take her with him - another Hellblazer move that had me grinning.

The exchange between the poor half-drunken priest at the bar and Zed was very illuminating - and certainly very welcome:

Zed: “Have you seen an Englishman? Wears a trenchcoat?
Man: “[He] stick you with the bar tab too? My advice: don’t waste yourself on that one.”
Zed: “I don’t have a choice.”
Man: “My son had that effect. When he was alive. Left behind clutches of weepy girls who swore he was the only one to give their life meaning.”
Zed: “It’s not like that.” Pause. “It’s like that but not the way you think. I mean it’s just that he means something to me. I don’t know what.”

At last - a character that wasn’t going to do the Stephen Moffat simpering girl thing and just fall at the feet of the male lead. About fucking time.

She has a face-off with John, and she doesn’t back down. She does take it in, she’s not brushing it off - she’s processing it but finding other things scarier than anything he could show her. Again, she’s got my respect. She not in-your-face ‘feisty’ or ‘firey’ or any of those things that modern writers think that ‘strong’ women are, but just a woman who’s seen a lot of shit and knows how to deal with lesser bollocks. As she tells John, she knows what she’s running from. Whatever it is must be scarier than John’s life. Which is really quite worrying.

Faith

Catching two youngsters shagging in the boarded up church apparently makes John disappointed in human nature - him, the bloke who shagged a succubus in a graveyard, and a cosmetically-reconstructed virgin on holy ground. I don’t think he has any legs to stand on here. But he does pull off a little magic and see that there is something rotten in Denmark. He doesn’t seem at all phased about the church being a holy place. Hmm.

It’s obvious that Zed has faith in something bigger than herself - and that may or may not be the ‘destiny’ that threw John in her lap that day in Heddwich. She has a fierce need of something to believe it, it seems. If John turns out to be worthy, then big things could be put into motion here. It’s exciting to watch; literally anything is possible if you put John on a case with Chas on his one side and a clairsentient on the other.

The question is, what does John have faith in? Certainly not the church, although he does employ the famous scribblings from their best-selling book when it suits him. Faith in what he knows, what he can prove, then? John and Zed race off to track down the last few people who could be a victim, if their new theory formed by ‘interrogating’ the ex-priest is correct. We get treated to a bit of SFX and the monster. Using nothing more than a reminder of what it used to be, and a quick spray painting of the alchemist’s symbol for earth, John and Zed make the ‘monster’ leave - and have the one definable clue that tells John exactly who did this.

John then drives - drives - to the Big Bad’s house and this is starting to look like one of those unfortunate Hellblazer corners that he gets himself into. John knows the villain only managed to use so much magic to use the dead for their own means because the season arc helped them. Nice bit of intersection there. But the Big Bad has forgotten who they’re dealing with - John Constantine doesn’t play if he can’t win. He gets one over on the Big Bad, and it’s all over. Well, until he has to get back to his boarding house and shower the crappy little town off him so he can leave. Who’s waiting for him? Zed, of course. She kinda lied about leaving town without him. Who wouldn’t? She has big things on her mind, concerning all kinds of reasons to believe in what he does. He just assumes she’s there for a quick shag - and that’s John all over, isn’t it? But oh no no, he’s not her type and she’s there for more important reasons:

Zed: “You see, John… I’ve been waiting for you, and you found me. I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for and you don’t know what you’ve found. The question is, are we going to help each other or not?

I like her already - almost as much as I like John, and that’s saying something. She’s quietly forceful, not passive aggressive or a ‘bitch’, but someone used to doing things by herself and getting shit done because of it. Now she’s found the man in her pictures - and her visions - she’s going to have to adapt. And force John to, as well. Which will be the fun part.

We finish on a nice wrap-up - the miners are safe, even if they’re all jobless and hopeless now that the mine is shut for good; ex-priest Ellis is back in his church, and Zed is keeping a watchful eye over a totally knackered John. Or is she? As John puts it to ease us out of the episode:

John: [voice-over] “I suppose it could be liberating to take a leap of faith, to shrug off the burden of proof for the promise of hope. It takes trust to turn darkness to light, and those who trust risk putting their faith in the wrong hands - for there are those who pray for you, and there are those who prey on you, and no matter how careful you are, sometimes you just can’t tell the difference.



It sounds like Matt Ryan enjoyed recording that voice-over, and it definitely looked like John and Zed had the right kind of Team Desperate chemistry. There was a moment when I’m sure they both thought they were going to get a shag in, but the moment was stolen and it never came back. Which I think is a good thing - you should never find out if God has a sock drawer. Angelica Celaya was amazing in this - this is the challenge that John needs, this is the draw of the series, this is the interesting wrinkle in Manny’s plan to get John to stop the ‘rising darkness’. Zed and her one-woman clairsentient\psychic intervention is about to shake things up for everyone. And I couldn’t be more glad. If the pilot episode was wobbly, then this episode has caused it to find its feet. The emergence of Zed, and all that this means for John and even Chas, can only improve on what is a solid start to a series.

Final vote? Nine out of ten. It may have been reshuffled to get shown second and not third, but I think it worked. If this is what we’ve got to look forward to (and I know we have), then bring it on. Can I just watch the next episode now instead of next week? No? I have to wait? Oh alright then. If I could sod work off and watch the entire series over night, I would. Unfortunately, I have shit to do before I can sleep and then go back to work.

Which brings this to a close. Thanks for reading, and if you’ve taken part in any of the Save Constantine activities at all recently or repeatedly, then I thank you from the heart of my bottom. We need a season 2, and I’m not stopping with the voting and petitioning and e-mailing until we get one, on any network.

Peach and lube, everyone. Peach and frelling lube.